The 13th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15C (8/18/2013)

Lessons:Jeremiah 23:23-29 Psalm 82 (8) Hebrews 11:29–12:2 St. Luke 12:49-56

Semicontinuous Series: Isaiah 5:1-7 Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18 (14, 15) Hebrews 11:29–12:2 St. Luke 12:49-56

Prayer of the Day: O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

12:49 [Jesus said,] “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?


St. Luke 12:49-56. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Jesus and Family Values

It is said that seminary professor Stanley Hauerwas liked to open one of his classes by reading a letter from a concerned parent to a governmental official. In the letter, the parent complains that this child (who had received the best education, gone to all the right schools, and was headed for a good job as a lawyer) had become mixed up with a strange religious sect. This sect controlled his every move. It told him where to live. It told him what to believe. It told him how to behave. It told him what family members to reject. It told him whom to and whom not to date. It took all his money. In the letter, the parent pleads with the governmental official to do something. “Who,” Professor Hauerwas would ask, “is this letter describing?” Some think it is describing the Moonies or some other modern-day sect. The answer: it is a letter dating back to the third century, written by Roman parents, complaining about a group known as “Christians.”

There was a time when a child’s embrace of Christian faith almost automatically caused great difficulty in family relationships. As children gave their ultimate allegiance to this new movement, parents felt marginalized and threatened, and tensions grew. That still happens, from time to time, in our day. A young person grows up among those who are less expressive about their faith. He or she goes off to college, or moves to a neighboring town, and encounters a group of people who are passionate about their faith. In time that passion rubs off, and a new and deeper experience of faith takes hold. But often, when a young person comes home born again, that new faith commitment is often accompanied by a disdain for those whose faith is expressed with less exuberance. Tension grows. Parents are divided against child. Siblings are divided against one another.

We tend to think of that kind of person as a “fanatic” — someone who has lost perspective, and who would be a lot healthier if they had more balance in their lives. But I wonder if Jesus would agree with that assessment. In this week’s Gospel lesson, he says:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

In this latter section of St. Luke’s Gospel lesson, when Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, we encounter many strong sayings like this one. Increasingly, he teaches his followers that being true to him, and to his message, is more important than anything else: even more important than something as central to life as family relationships. In a world where “traditional family values” and “commitment to putting family first” receive so much attention, we would do well to remember these words of Jesus. They remind us that as important as our families are to us, even more important is our relationship to God, and our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only when our faith comes first, that we can be everything God wants us to be for our families. May God grant that this be true of us. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How did Jesus speak of family relationships in Luke’s Gospel? (see, for example, Luke 8:19-21, 9:57-62, 14:25-26)
  2. Why do you suppose Jesus tended to de-emphasize the centrality of the family?
  3. What did Jesus command his followers to place at the center of their lives?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. As I look at my priorities, where do family and faith fall in place?
  2. Are there times when my commitment to my family precludes me from a full commitment to my faith?
  3. How can a deeper commitment to my faith give me more to offer to my family?